In 2010, Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to Newark, New Jersey’s failing public-school system with the intention of turning around the schools in five years.
The goals Zuckerberg set out to achieve — to enact a number of reforms that would make Newark a model city for education reform — are widely seen as a failure, journalist Dale Russakoff told Business Insider.
One of the biggest failures in Zuckerberg’s plan to reform Newark schools was the renegotiated teachers’ contracts.
Zuckerberg envisioned the teacher contract reform to be a centerpiece of the reform and contributed $50 million — half of his total donation — to go to working on that cause.
Zuckerberg wanted to be able to create more flexibility in teacher contracts to reward high-performing teachers and to fire teachers with poor records of student achievement.
Instead, the opposite occurred. Chris Cerf, the New Jersey commissioner of education at the time, worked with the Legislature and was able to negotiate some new accountability measures in teacher contracts.
But the teachers’ union only agreed upon those measures if the seniority protections remained intact.
A quick summation of this would be that this was a $100M lesson proving that throwing money at a problem won’t automatically solve the problem. Some of the practical outcomes: the union is as entrenched as ever; incompetents and time-servers that have tenure are as protected as ever; ill-coordinated restructuring of district schools have resulted in students burning time travelling to schools outside of their neighborhoodsm sometimes through dangerous areas of the city.
I don’t know Mark Zuckerberg, so what follows is my speculation based on familiarity with the Liberal-Progressive archetype. I don’t think Zuckerberg learned much. (Public) Schools and teachers are such sacred icons that I don’t think he recognized the teacher’s union(s) and educrats as being a big chunk of the problem. I also doubt he got past thinking of children as vessels into which all kinds of good things can be poured, i.e. passive and open receivers of whatever schools pour in.
Reality is that unions will fight tooth and nail to protect their least competent and least diligent dues-paying members; students and their parents don’t pay dues. Reality is that many educrats are into power, the latest edu-fads, social change and serving their time until retirement. Reality is that many students’ family and social situations and cultures heavily discourage learning and investing time and work in their future.
However idealistic and good his intentions may have been, Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t going to waltz into Newark, NJ, wave a $100M wand, and transform Newark schools into a Progressive Education Nirvana.